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Spelling reformers, including the S.S.S., have hitherto been constrained by the premise that the current English alphabet should be retained. It may be that computerisation will advance at such a rate, throughout the English-speaking world, that such a limitation becomes irrelevant: but that stage is still a long way off. The manual typewriter is far from extinct; and demand for cheap word-processors and other kinds of low-level I.T. equipment with no choice of typefaces etc. may well continue into the distant future. This point has been repeatedly emphasised because it is the very crux of English spelling reform. Its relaxation to the extent of using even one diacritic, like the circumflex (as on ê), would remove the phonemic barrier to a rational orthography at a stroke.
For example, although the Esperanto alphabet has only 22 letters, lacking the symbols [q, w, x & y] (the English /w/ and /y/ are represented by other letters), the optional accentation of [c, g, h, j, s & u] effectively increases its alphabet to 28 letters. Using diacritics likewise in the English alphabet would certainly solve all the problems of representing its range of phonemes, though it would make a great deal of QWERTY hardware redundant in the process.
We have examined the consequences of this limitation in some detail, showing that phonetic spellings using the existing alphabet are prolix, but that there are not enough underused letters such as [q] and [x] to represent even consonant digraphs economically - much less vowels. The fundamentals of the problem are twofold: firstly an alphabet which could exist within the existing QWERTY machinery, and secondly an alphabet which could orthographically represent at least 27 consonant phonemes and 18 vowel phonemes.
In order to accommodate these constraints, we suggest that the capacity of the alphabet might be doubled by severing the phonemic identity between lower case letters and their upper case equivalents. Operation of the shift-key would thus allow no less than 52 phonemes to be independently symbolised. But then initial capitals on names and sentences would have to be denoted differently: we suggest the use of an initial stop instead, e.g. "David Lovel in yon abbey." = "..david .lovel in yon abbey.".
One variation on this idea would use the upper-case letters exclusively to represent vowels - an arrangement of possible long-term potential for a type of usage which might be best understood by considering Hebrew, the ancient language of Israel, revised for modern use. As an entirely consonantal script, Hebrew had always relied on memory to provide sound and context to distinguish homographs, but the Nikud system essentially uses two scripts: one with diacritics - which are used to signify vowels; and one without - for those who are so familiar with the appearance of words that the diacritics may be omitted. A somewhat similar system is used to a lesser extent in other Middle-Eastern languages.
The first script is printed in school primers, textbooks for language students, and where an exact orthographic rendition is required - as in certain religious passages. This script is normally handwritten, since it is predominately used by children and students. The second script, which consists of consonants only, is printed in books and newspapers - where the mass of the population, which has mastered the first script to the extent of being able to recognise words without diacritics, can read it with little difficulty.
The objection will soon be raised that such a dual system is wholly unsuitable for English words, which are often short and full of vowels, including diphthongs and triphthongs. (There is an approximate 2:1 ratio between consonant and vowel sounds in English.) The objection is valid. If used in present-day English, or practically any of the world's languages for that matter, there would be an immoderate number of consonantal homographs in the second script. For example: "rat, writ, rot, rut, rate, rete, rote, root, rite, rout and wrought" would all become "rt"! Moreover, words like "a, I, eye, owe, ewe" would disappear entirely.
However, this second abbreviated script might be introduced decades or centuries hence, when a very different vocabulary from a wide range of international sources allowed it to work. (The phonemes would perhaps need to be redefined at the same time as they moved from an "English" towards a more international currency.) When this happened every child would learn the first script: meanwhile consciously learning to recognise words by their appearance - as is done in the case of East Asian ideograms - to the extent of being able to miss off the vowel representations (i.e. the capitals) at some stage. That would leave the second script - which could be none other than the present alphabet as found on the QWERTY keyboard. This follows the normal pattern of development wherein children and students use handwriting, and typing is a skill which may be acquired later.
However, such considerations are for the future; the present concern would be to choose symbols to facilitate a rational spelling. We could start with the consonants, which are more straightforward: seventeen of them might as well be the same as in English. Some rationale might be given for the ten alterations: [c] = /ts/ in German and many other languages, also some pronunciations of words like "once, mince, city" give this sound; [c] = /tsh/ would also make sense, given imports like "cello, ciao", but morphically the stroke on [e] might signify the /ts/ modification; [g] = /dzh/ in many English words already, e.g. "gel, gender, gesture, giant, gist"; [i] = /ng/ might be appropriate in view of the very common suffix "-ing"; [j] = /zh/ as in French, this phoneme is heard increasingly in English through imports, e.g. "beige, bijou, azure, Zhivago, Siobhan"; [o] = /th/ as in Greek "theta"; [q] = [g] (plosive or "hard"), unprecendented but fits morphologically, [q] is easily substituted by [kw] or [k] ("queen, queue"); [x] = /sh/ as in Portuguese, Basque, Maltese and Catalan, [x] is also readily replaced, by [gz], [ks] or [gzh/ksh] ("examine, exit, luxury").
Moreover, the apostrophe might be used to represent a 27th consonant: the glottal stop or alif, which is found in Hebrew, other Middle-Eastern languages, Amerindian tongues, and elsewhere. As the world contracts, the glottal stop is being increasingly required for accurate transliteration into English. De facto, it is the 27th letter of the English alphabet already - used for transcribing names, and also dialect or argot expressions, e.g. "bu'er" or "go'a lo'a bo'le". In addition, the apostrophe is now used to denote missing letters, e.g. "fo'c'sle, haven't, Scarboro'", and also the genitive case, e.g. "Susan's". Orthographic reform would make the former unnecessary - since words would be spelt as they sounded - and the genitive could be abolished if the simple creole usage became current. Alternatively, a convention could be established that all plurals ended in [z], and all genitives in [s], e.g. "Londons taksiz, artists artistz" - which is more or less the standard orthographic spelling anyway.
These consonants may be tabulated thus:
|a = /dh/||j = /zh/||s|
|c = /ts/||l||u = /ny/|
|e = /tsh/||n||w|
|f||o = /th/||x = /sh/|
|g = /dzh/||p||y|
|h||q = /g/||z|
|i = /ng/||r||'|
The number and specification of the vowels varies between languages, and also between dialects within languages, much more than in the case of consonants. With that proviso, Table 1 lists 18 vowels previously shown to have a wide currency in English, and also the irregularity of traditional orthography when it comes to representing them. According to this system, vowel digraphs ending in [e] and [u] are considered to be monophthongs, and those ending in [a], [i] and [o] are diphthongs.
Table 2 matches 18 capital letters to these vowels: an allocation which is even more arbitrary than in the case of consonants. Six capitals [C, O, S, V, W & Z] are not used because the upper-case and lower-case symbols are normally similar. This could cause confusion when using computerised equipment with the ability to reduce the font size when touching the shift-key. [Q] and [P], the top-corner letters on the keyboard, might be added if 20 vowels were employed. The vowels and their symbols are also tabulated below:
The Lord's Prayer, transcribed from a non-rhotic speech into this orthography, demonstrates both regularity and print saving. Improvements to this spelling system might include the conventionalising of some common words and inflections.
"Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
".BU .fMaU, wIe Mt In hEvUn, hAlGd bN .aY .nKm. .aY .kIidUm kUm, .aY .wIl bI dUn, In Fo Az It Iz In hEvUn. .qIv Us aIs dK BU dKlI brEd, And fLqIv Us BU trEspAsIz, Az wN fLqIv aEm aAt trEspMs UqKnst Us. .And lNd Us nDt IntX tEmptKxUn, bUt dNlIvU Us frDm NvIl. .MmEn."
(m = monophthong, d = dipththong)
(corresponding to Table 1)
Another variation on the same idea (using a mixture of upper and lower case letters) would be statistically based. According to this system, sounds which occur most frequently in current English, i.e. in more than 1.5% of text, would be allocated to lower case letters and the remaining sounds, i.e. those occurring in less than 1.5% of current English text, would be signified by upper case letters, irrespective of whether they were vowels or consonants.
Although this system does not have the long-term possibility of the previously described scheme, i.e. that of dispensing with the vowels (and thus of the upper case letters representing them) in text used by the already literate, it has a significant advantage in the short and medium term - which is that, since the upper case letters symbolise the less frequent sounds, the use of the shift-key on the usual QWERTY keyboard would be minimised. A suggested system is as follows (the proposed use of letters is illustrated where appropriate by the word before the slash):
Sounds occurring in over 1.5% of current English text (all the consonants except those signified would retain their present usage):
|a = opan / open||j = fjl / feel||s|
|c = c / the||l||u = up / up|
|e = pen / pen||n||w|
|f||o = hop / hope||x = hxt / hat|
|g = get / get||p||y = ply / ply|
|h||q = mqk / make||z|
|i = pin / pin||r|
Sounds occurring in less than 1.5% of current English text (a rhotic pronunciation would be represented by this scheme in order to maintain a visual link with T.O.):
|A = Art / art||I = Iet / yet||Q = nQ / now|
|B = bBk / book||J = viJan / vision||R = fRr / for|
|D = hDt / hot||K = Kin / chin||T = Tin / thin|
|E = bErd / bird||L = uLan / onion||U = Uz / use|
|F = Fen / when||M = Mip / ship||Y = rYl / rule|
|G = Gel / gel||N = siN / sing||! = glottal stop|
|H = HAn / khan||P = bP / boy|
Below is the Lord's Prayer translated into this orthography:
".Qr .fAcar, FiK Art in hevan, hxlod bj .cy nqm. .cy kiNdam kum, .cy .wil bj dun, in ErT xz it iz in hevan. .giv us cis dq Qr dqli bred, xnd fRrgiv us Qr trespAsiz, xz wj fRrgiv cem cxt trespAs agenst us. .xnd ljd us nDt intY temptqMan, but dilivar us frDm jvil. .Amen."
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